My favourite Brazilian and World Cinema film of all time is City of God (2002). My goodness, there are a LOT of fantastic films out there, but I’m almost positive it’s my absolute fave. So when Central Do Brasil came up as the next best Brazilian film in my research, I was excited to venture into more top films from the same country. Although I knew it would never knock City of God from the top spot, it sure gave it a run for it’s money.
Central Do Brasil superbly mixes the pinnacle of excellent narrative arcs. A tragic twist, a road trip and an unlikely blossoming relationship. The relationship is between Dora, a retired English teacher who now works at a huge train/bus station in Rio de Janeiro. She gets paid writing letters for those who cannot write. For the late nineties when this film is set, it’s absolutely shocking the amount of people who cannot write in such a big city. And finally Josué, a young boy whose mother goes to Dora to write a letter to her ex-lover. She tragically gets hit by a bus just outside of the station. As the days pass and the boy sleeps rough in the bus station, Dora becomes responsible for the boy and reluctantly goes with him to search for his father.
The pair were so, so unlikely to ever forge a relationship, but with Dora having no husband and no kids and Josué having no parents, you could say it was inevitable that they would help each other through a difficult period in each of their lives. But it was Dora’s letter writing profession that hooked me most. This is why I want to travel. This is why I want to burst my bubble. It seems unimaginable to me in a city like Rio de Janeiro that so, so many people, even people who to look at wouldn’t seem that poor, cannot read or write. It’s absolutely baffling.
And then you have Dora, who we see at the start of the film as very cynical about the hopes and dreams that these people are pouring into the letters. These people are poor. Therefore they don’t go around writing letters a lot, They only pay for someone to write a letter for them when they really need to send it. When they really have something to say. Dora goes back to her housemate every night with those letters and they re-read them all deciding which to send and which to throw away. Her education gives her a huge leverage over her poorer, less educated counterparts. These are all potentially life-changing letters but her troublesome life has left her hard-bent and without compassion.
Later in the film, Dora and Josué are on the road and are in desperate need of some cash. When they finally arrive at Bom Jesus, the town Josué’s father supposedly lives in, there arises a need for illiterate people who have gone on a pilgrimage to the town to send letters to Jesus. Josué drums up the business for Dora. They both earn so much money from all of the people expressing their gratitude to the Lord and wanting to send messages of happiness to their loved ones. This time Dora thrives off the goodness, the grace that are in the words she is writing. This time she posts the letters. Somewhere in her journey and the time spent with the boy, little by little she’s become less cynical and become much more open about the goodness in the world.
At the end of the film, Josué is left with is two older brothers since his father is AWOL. And Dora goes back to Rio de Janeiro, and writes Josué a letter on the bus home. She goes back to her old life. A changed woman on the inside and on the outside with the new dress and lipstick she acquired on the road. She may be retired but her life isn’t over yet.
I may have just completely spoiled the ending for you, sorry! But this film is beautiful for all of its mess and chaos. At the surface, the film is very much about life’s journey and how crossed paths can make huge impacts in your life. For the better or the worse. I’ve learnt so much I didn’t know about Brazil. And so much about grace than I ever did in a movie called City of God.
Have you ever seen Central Do Brasil? Did you enjoy it as much as I did?